Cell tower in the stratosphere

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Drone maker AeroVironment, Inc. is making its way into what many see as the next frontier in connectivity: 5G.

In a joint venture with tech-forward Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Corp., AeroVironment plans to “pursue the business of 5G and IoT” — the internet of things — “globally,” AeroVironment President and CEO Wahid Nawabi told CNBC on Thursday.

In the initial phases of the project, AeroVironment and SoftBank plan “to develop and demonstrate a stratospheric airplane that is powered 100 percent by solar power, energy,” Nawabi told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer in an exclusive interview.

Then, “it’s going to fly on the edge of the atmosphere,” the CEO said. The mission? To bring fifth-generation internet connectivity to the entire world.

“AeroVironment has decades of expertise here. And it’s going to beam 5G IoT connectivity for the 7 billion people around the world,” Nawabi told Cramer. “Think of it, Jim, as a super cell tower up in the stratosphere … providing connectivity for everybody that needs it.”

The venture, announced in January, is called HAPSMobile. HAPS stands for high-altitude pseudo-satellites, a type of unmanned aerial system that is used for commercial operations. The project is estimated to have a “net maximum value” of up to $65,011,481, according to AeroVironment.

The race to establish 5G networks has escalated in recent years, and not just among telecom giants like T-Mobile. In August, a Deloitte study showed that China has outspent the United States by billions of dollars in building out 5G capabilities.

Still, although the venture is in its early stages, Nawabi said AeroVironment has proven itself in its ability to outpace others in its space.

“We’re really focused right now on this phase of the development, which is to develop and demonstrate this capability. AeroVironment has a very rich and deep history there,” he said. “In fact, we have the world altitude record — over 96,000 feet — with a solar-powered airplane that we did almost a decade and a half ago.”

Another key point Nawabi made was that despite its ability to fly under the radar of the public eye, AeroVironment is no small contender in the world of robotics, software analytics, sensors and connectivity — its “four future-defining technologies,” according to the CEO.

“We represent 86 percent-plus of the U.S. [Department of Defense]’s drones by inventory as a company,” the CEO said. “So we’re unrivaled in the space and we invented these categories, and it comes from the decades of innovation that our engineers and scientists have put into these efforts or these solutions that we launch to the market.”

Shares of AeroVironment ended Thursday’s trading session up 3.06 percent, at $111.44. The company’s stock hit a fresh 52-week high on Wednesday of $113.06.



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Pravin Auti Author